The $5m royal wedding

Three weeks of celebrations, a guest list that included princes and world leaders, and a 21-gun salute. Jonathan Este reports on the marriage of the Crown Prince of Brunei
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The Independent Online

The future king of Brunei married his teenage bride yesterday following two weeks of pre-nuptial celebrations. The lavish ceremonials are scheduled to last for a further three days and reportedly cost the royal family $5m (£2.8m), but this is considered remarkably restrained by the opulent standards of celebrations in the oil-rich Sultanate.

The future king of Brunei married his teenage bride yesterday following two weeks of pre-nuptial celebrations. The lavish ceremonials are scheduled to last for a further three days and reportedly cost the royal family $5m (£2.8m), but this is considered remarkably restrained by the opulent standards of celebrations in the oil-rich Sultanate.

A tropical downpour failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds who turned out to see the wedding motorcade pass. Crown Prince Al-Mukhtadee Billah Bolkiah, 30, the son of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, and his bride, Sarah Salleh, 17, were transported in a customised Rolls-Royce.

Guests at the marriage ceremony included members of Asian royal families and political leaders, including Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito; Gloria Arroyo, President of the Philippines; Lee Hsien Loong, the new Prime Minister of Singapore; and President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, who was forced to leave early following the terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Britain was represented by the Duke of Gloucester. Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was also among the guests, who were greeted with a 21-gun salute.

Domestically, the wedding was billed as the tiny nation's biggest and most extravagant event since the Sultan's own wedding, 30 years ago, but an official spokesman was quick to point out that it was relatively restrained compared with other celebrations held in the oil-rich sultanate. In 1996, to mark the Sultan's 50th birthday, the entire country was invited to join a party at which Michael Jackson, who had been flown in specially, performed.

"It's not about how much it costs," said Bujan Masu'ut. "You have to consider how many people showed up in the rain to greet the royal family. What is important is the love shown by Brunei to the Sultan and his family."

On this occasion, there has been a fortnight of celebrations including concerts, cultural shows and karaoke - but the event has reportedly been sponsored by local companies, including the oil and gas firms Brunei Shell and Brunei LNG and the local car distributor Goh Hock Kee.

Brunei, while still wealthy by regional standards, has felt the effects of the Asian financial crises of the late 1990s and the royal family itself was hit by a major financial scandal surrounding the Sultan's brother, Prince Jefri, who resigned as head of Brunei's investment agency after his own company collapsed with debts of $7bn.

There was no visible sign of any corporate sponsorship as the ceremony proceeded with appropriate pomp and circumstance in the 1,788-room palace. The wedding, which was held in the Throne Chamber, began with the lighting of the traditional dian empat, a ceremonial candle. The bride emerged from a state room an hour behind schedule, wearing an embroidered blue costume and a diamond tiara. The Prince wore ceremonial dress including a gold crown and kris, or dagger, tucked into his sash. Muslim prayers were recited before the newly-weds bowed and kissed the hands of the Sultan and the Queen and other members of the royal family. They then set out on a five-mile motorcade to greet the people of Brunei. "I'm excited to come out and see this because he will be my new king," one man told local television. "He seems smart and sophisticated, even though I've never heard or seen him before."

The Oxford-educated Prince Billah met his bride, who is half Swiss and whose father is a manager at the public works department, through a mutual friend. According to an official wedding booklet handed out to guests and media, the new princess is "known among her teachers and friends for her grace, intelligence and positive attitude".

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